WHY PLANNING NOW FOR LATER IS ESSENTIAL
BY TIM WOOD
If you own a car, a house or antiques or collectibles that have tangible value, you have a need for estate planning.
None of us want to think about our own mortality, but doing the necessary work ahead of a tragedy or incapacitation can save your loved ones a lot of pain.
“It’s the stuff we have in our homes that causes the heartache, the in-fighting, the family fights that get in the way of grieving,” said Realtor and tax attorney Doug Delaney, the author of the recently published “Inherited Home Guide.”
He has been helping Lowcountry residents maneuver around the potential land mines of estate planning for more than 25 years.
“If there are not clear directives, you end up in probate court. There are amazing folks that work in the system, but my No. 1 goal is to keep folks clear from having to go the probate path,” he said.
Delaney said most folks have more stuff than they realize, or in many cases, so much stuff that dealing with it becomes emotionally paralyzing. Consider your possessions and where they should go upon passing, and that begins with a car.
“Folks will say, ‘Oh we own that jointly, so it will automatically go to my spouse.’ Not always,” Delaney said. “Cars are one asset where you need to make sure the word ‘or’ is in a joint ownership instead of the word ‘and’. It’s a game changer, the easiest way to stay out of probate. ‘And’ is always a loser.”
Changing one word in one document is essential.
“Get that title to say ‘or’. That way, it immediately becomes your spouse’s by law,” Delaney said.
The law supports ‘and’ when it comes to real estate, brokerage and bank accounts.
Delaney shies his clients away from living wills. He said creating clear healthcare directives through power of attorney is essential.
“Living wills are passive. They do not clearly define a person’s agency powers. You want a document that cannot be trumped by anything else in the eyes of the law,” Delaney said. “As my kids would say, living wills are, like, so last century. And it is useful in the living as well. If you go in for surgery or are in an accident and are in a coma, you have established a clear person to make decisions for you until you’re not incapacitated.”
Delaney said that while many aspects of South Carolina law are seen by many as antiquated, the state is No. 1 in the country when it comes to healthcare directives and asset protection for residents.
“It is something worth bragging about, and it and it definitely makes my job easier,” Delaney said. “When you lock down the directives as clearly as possible, it’s like taking a couple of pills for an illness versus having to go through surgery.”
Do you have enough life insurance? If you’re married with kids, it is a necessary evil to ensure your family can financially survive without dual incomes. Name a guardian, and document clear wishes for your children’s care. These are all part of the estate planning process.
If you’re thinking of establishing a trust, make sure you have a trustee up to the challenge and establish a clear trustee succession.
“You want a doer in that role, a person of action who won’t be paralyzed by decisions like putting a home up for sale,” Delaney said.
Wills and directives done out-of-state before you moved here will likely hold up in South Carolina, but Delaney said it’s a better-safe-than-sorry move to have an attorney review the document.
Delaney does workshops throughout the area on estate planning and real estate. Above all, clear planning now can save epic headaches later.
“Have clear-cut benef iciaries for everything of value. It’s truly a life inventory. If you’re divorced and remarried, make sure you’ve changed life insurance and brokerage beneficiaries. It’s a mistake I see far too often,” he said. “Just doing the work can save a lot in estate taxes, gift taxes and so many more potential fees. But above all, planning now minimizes any potential pain above and beyond your family’s grieving your passing.”